Two major social realities evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics oppose are abortion on demand and gay marriage. From my conversations with acquaintances in both church groups locally, this is as true in West Virginia as anywhere else. Without those two issues, much of the religious support for Republican candidates would collapse.
Neither presidential campaign, that of President Donald J. Trump nor that of former vice president Joe Biden, has been advocating for or against gay marriage. Both campaigns seem to regard gay marriage as “settled law.”
To the chagrin of evangelicals in particular, Trump has actively been recruiting gay support for his cause of getting re-elected.
That leaves abortion, which Trump occasionally mentions. And he explicitly tells his “faith voters” that he is “with you all the way” and promises more conservative judicial appointments toward a goal of rolling back Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in all 50 states.
Trump delights in photo ops of himself in the Oval Office surrounded by evangelical ministers and laymen (with one or two women in the picture). Trump’s head is bowed reverently over his desk while those gathered either lay hands on his shoulders or extend a hand in his direction. Ostensibly, all present including the president are deep in prayer.
I am familiar with this kind of prayer, as I have been active in charismatic and evangelical circles in West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina for over 40 years.
We pray in this fashion at annual meetings of Catholic charismatics in Charleston and at Pipestem State Park. We sometimes pray this way at Kairos prison ministry weekends at Mt. Olive Maximum Security Correctional Center or at the low-security federal prison in Ashland.
The others who flock to pray with Trump at the White House typically are every-Sunday churchgoers. That certainly includes Vice President Mike Pence, raised Catholic and for most of his career an evangelical. Trump, however, is rarely seen in church.
He nonetheless plays the church card whenever he can. In early June, he had federal troops on horseback clear a crowd of peaceful protesters outside the White House gates, using tear gas and rubber bullets so that he and his entourage could walk across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church.
There Trump posed for a photo op holding up a Bible, upside down and backwards. Later Trump set up another photo op standing next to a larger-than-life-size statue of Pope John Paul II elsewhere in Washington, D.C.
He caught what is popularly called “holy hell” from both Episcopal Bishop of D.C. Mariann Budds and the Catholic Archbishop of D.C., Wilton Gregory, for using the church and then the statue “as political props.” And for doing so without seeking permission.
On another front, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ video for the 2020 elections no longer mentions abortion as the “pre-eminent life issue” for the Catholic faithful. The video leaves the impression that abortion is one of a range of issues that the bishops say voters should consider, among them racism, immigration, and the treatment of refugees and others living in poverty.
This revision will help Biden rather than Trump. Nonetheless, alert Catholics were sure to notice that Biden was recently refused communion by a priest in South Carolina because of agreeing with leftist Democrats who want to expand access to abortion.